Who's asking: Sue Schulz, during last month's visit to Maine
The webs belong to something called -- appropriately enough -- the fall webworm, Hyphrantria cunea. In this part of the country, they prefer maple trees, though they also like fruit trees and nut-bearing trees. Larvae hatch in late summer and weave their webs over the leaves they feed on; as their territory expands, so does the web, until it's time for the larvae to form pupae, become little white moths, and start the cycle all over again.
The good news is that while webworms are ugly and can chew all the leaves off a branch, they rarely do serious or lasting damage to a tree. Coastal Maine also has a pest called the browntail moth, whose larvae weave similar tents; these moths do much more damage to trees, and the caterpillars are poisonous, too.
I started to say that they're all gross, but felt a pang of guilt about prejudice against insects. God forbid I be speciesist. Years ago a friend of mine's sister, an entomologist, wanted to fix me up with one of her colleagues. "He's so nice," she said. "He really loves animals." I declined when I realized that what she meant was that he really loved bugs. My loss, no doubt, and I still feel a little guilty about it -- but there it is. I own my prejudices. Dogs good, gooey caterpillars bad.
My car is fixed again after its latest mishap, and I'm trying to catch up on some long-pending projects. I'd hoped to go to New York tomorrow, but it isn't going to happen. Every so often, I have to say no to something.